Local governments have more ways to connect with residents now than ever before. Between digital communication methods and more traditional ones, there are plenty of options. That said, an increased number of communication methods also means that the actual coordination of these communications needs to be seamless. This is especially important in emergency situations. When a crisis strikes, it's not just a handful of people that are affected, but rather the whole community, making it absolutely crucial for municipalities to have a tried-and-true crisis communication strategy in place. Here are a few things community leaders in municipalities need to keep in mind when thinking about their own crisis communication strategy.
Prepare messages beforehand
When an emergency occurs, you'll need to contact a lot of people—residents, of course, but also police, firefighters, hospitals, news outlets, and more. You'll also be delivering different types of information to different groups of people. If you try to create and send all these alerts manually, from scratch, in the heat of the moment, the chances of something going wrong along the way increase exponentially.
Instead, prepare as much of these messages ahead of time as possible. By creating reusable email, SMS, and voice message templates, you'll already have the bulk of your message ready to go for the real thing. All you'll have to do is add or tweak specific details, choose contact list(s) to send to, and you're good to go!
Keep stakeholders connected in the moment
Though you can prepare certain things ahead of time, others will need to be performed in the moment. It is very important for all stakeholders to be constantly connected during an emergency. Police, firefighters, medical staff, and government decision-makers need to know exactly what is going on at all times so they can act accordingly.
Teleconferences are one great way to keep everyone connected and on the same page during an emergency, especially when your team is scattered all around the city. Of course, it isn't exactly time-efficient to schedule a teleconference, send out invitations, and hope that information is all received before the teleconference even starts—instead, try a program that lets you host teleconferences instantly and dial out to participants on the fly.
Another thing you'll need to do in the moment is gather key information from local facilities, such as hospital bed availability. This information can be gathered quickly and easily using a live survey application. It only takes a few minutes to throw together a quick survey, send it out to the appropriate stakeholders, and let the responses flow in.
And where should these responses go? How can you be absolutely sure that all stakeholders have all the information they need, when they need it? Three words: common operating pictures. By using an emergency management software which uses common operating pictures, you can put every bit of key information about the incident—survey responses, reports, maps, alert history, live event feeds and more—on one screen that is accessible to everyone who needs it. That should reduce the number of repetitive questions you're receiving from stakeholders around the city, making it easier to focus on the situation at hand.
Learn from each incident
Emergency-related communications don't end when the emergency does. Once the incident is over and done, you'll have a lot to think about when it comes to your municipal crisis communication plan. Did everything work as you expected? Did you find your email templates to be adequate when applied to a real emergency? Did you have any connection issues in your teleconference, or was there anything crucial missing from your common operating picture? Beyond the communications aspect, how well did you go about actually handling the incident? Now is the time to re-evaluate your crisis communication strategy and make changes accordingly.
Don't think this needs to be limited to internal processes either—this is a public safety issue, so get the public involved! After things have calmed down a bit, send out a public survey to residents where they can provide feedback. Make this survey as accessible as possible by sharing it on as many platforms as you can. Send emails and SMS messages with a link to the survey included and post it on your municipality's website and social media pages.
You should also schedule a town hall following the incident; while surveys are great, residents should also be given the opportunity to address questions or concerns that might have been neglected on the form. Notify residents of the upcoming town hall through a number of communication methods, along with posting about it on your website and social media. A combination of surveys and in-person meetings with the public will allow you to gather plenty of feedback to keep in mind for your crisis communication strategy.
Let us help with your crisis communication strategy
Centralizing your processes can make or break your crisis communication strategy. That's where EmergHub comes in. EmergHub is SimplyCast's all-in-one emergency communication and management solution which includes a common operating picture, alerting capabilities, surveys, instant teleconferences, and everything else you'll need. For more information, contact the SimplyCast sales team to learn about what EmergHub can do for you!